Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Kirby, Who?

While an entire history of critics from Matthew Arnold to Harold Bloom have sought to identify excellence as an intrinsic and objective element, we contend that excellence is not a property of works but a judgment asserted on their behalf.
 Bart Beaty and Benjamin Woo, The Greatest Comic Book of All Time, Palgrave, 2016, 3.
Maus may not be intrinsically the greatest comic ever published, but that is a perfectly credible claim to make on its behalf.
 Bart Beaty and Benjamin Woo, The Greatest Comic Book of All Time, Palgrave, 2016, 94.
Ninety one pages are a lot of pages, apparently. In any case ninety one pages are enough to forget what we have written on page three.

I'm now on page ninety five of the above cited book, but I don't have much to add to my previous post.  The Greatest Comic Book of All Time seems, at times, like a fan history of American comic books instead of an academic essay (subtract the fan history and what you get is a slim pamphlet; ironically it should have been published in a comic book instead of a graphic novel format). But that's not what really bothers me. What really bothers me is this: Beaty and Woo appropriated features (quality signifiers, as they call them) for literature that don't belong to any art form. How is it possible to say that valuing a serious narrative with good characterization is valuing literariness? Do you really want to know? Because lit critics are smart and art crits are dumb, that's how. Let's suppose that the two fields are so far apart as Maus is from Youngblood or the Fantastic Four. This would mean that comics critics with a visual bend would value silly stories with cardboard caricatures.

Oops! They do! This is awful, Beaty and Woo are right!

I wish I could say to you that I was kidding above, but unfortunately I was not. Apparently, in the strange world of comics criticism, lit critics are smart and art critics are dumb. What I don't accept though is that narrative in comics is literature's monopoly (re. characterization, cf. last post). If that's true how do you explain the work of Frans Masereel, William Gropper or Martin tom Dieck, for instance?...

Frans Masereel, Mon livre d'heures [Passionate Journey], A. Kundig, 1919.

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